Republican presidential candidates react to Obama’s Afghan speech

Paul Conner Executive Editor
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Republican presidential candidates had mixed reactions to President Obama’s speech announcing he plans to drawdown 33,000 troops by the end of next summer.

Tim Pawlenty, positioning himself as the candidate who is willing to continue the war, called the speech “deeply concerning” in an interview on the O’Reilly Factor on Fox News.

Toward the middle, Mitt Romney gave a somewhat non-committal answer to the plan, saying he wants to hear more from military leaders on the ground.

“We all want our troops to come home as soon as possible, but we shouldn’t adhere to an arbitrary timetable on the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan,” Romney said in a statement. “This decision should not be based on politics or economics. America’s brave men and women in uniform have fought to achieve significant progress in Afghanistan, some having paid the ultimate price. I look forward to hearing the testimony of our military commanders in the days ahead.”

And Jon Huntsman reacted most positively to Obama’s directive, as he seeks to tack a more moderate position on foreign intervention.

“Now it is time we move to a focused counter-terror effort which requires significantly fewer boots on the ground than the President discussed tonight,” Huntsman said in a statement. “We need a safe but rapid withdrawal which encourages Afghans to assume responsibility.” (Obama calls for surge troops drawdown by next summer)

A spokesman for Texas Rep. Ron Paul, a longtime vocal critic of U.S. foreign military intervention, called the move “too little, too late.”

“When candidate Obama was running for the presidency, he campaigned largely on bringing our troops home, yet we are not only still in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we’ve expanded into Libya, Yemen, and Pakistan,” campaign chairman Jesse Benton said. “Despite this purely political move, there will still be thousands of American soldiers in harm’s way by the end of this drawdown.”

“Osama Bin Laden was very clear about his desire to suck America into a no-win war in the Middle East so they could pick us off over there,” continued Benton. “We shouldn’t allow Bin Laden to win from beyond the grave; we have fallen precisely into the trap he set for us – stretching our forces thin trying to nation-build and sending our men and women to fight without clear objectives.”

Another libertarian-minded candidate Gary Johnson said that U.S. troops should have left a long time ago.

“While bringing any of our troops home from Afghanistan is a good thing, the President’s plan is not much more than lip-service to his pledge to begin withdrawing by this summer,” Johnson said. “Only reducing troop numbers to pre-surge levels, and taking a year to do it, is not acceptable to the growing number of Americans, like me, who get the reality that there is no compelling reason to risk another life or another dollar in a conflict that has no end — and no remaining national security justification.

“Thanks to our quick and totally justified action in 2001, al Qaeda essentially left Afghanistan nine years ago,” he continued. “We should have done the same.”

Newt Gingrich blasted the president for not placing the Afghanistan struggle within the larger context of the Middle East, including Libya and Pakistan.

“There is a radical Islamist war against America and our allies. It would be helpful if President Obama had found time in his speech tonight to explain to the American people how we are going to win this war,” Gingrich wrote on Facebook. “Giving a speech in isolation about our military operations in Afghanistan without explaining how it connects with a larger strategy for winning the war against radical Islamists does not help Americans understand what it will take to provide for the security of the American people.”

“The President needs to conduct an entire strategic review, from Libya to Pakistan,” Gingrich continued. “Given the reality of the larger war that President Obama refuses to name, it’s not responsible to make a decision on Afghanistan in isolation just in order to meet a domestic political agenda.”

Republicans who want to be calling the shots on foreign policy from the White House were not the only ones with reactions to the speech. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said on Twitter he is worried about possibly undermining “a very successful strategy.”

“The president accelerated withdrawal in 2011/12 that could compromise our ability to maintain the gains we fought so hard to achieve,” said Graham, who visits Afghanistan every three months.

Graham also said he supported General David Petraeus, Afghanistan commander of U.S. and NATO forces, whose name was not mentioned in the speech.

“If General Petraeus’ judgment was overruled in a substantial way, I think that is a huge mistake,” he wrote.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, also weighed in.

“If we pull out too soon, I think the consequences will the blood of American troops,” McCain said on Fox’ Hannity. “It’s obvious, it’s widely known, that Gen. Petraeus objected to this proposal.”

“I think the president is taking an unnecessary risk with what he’s doing. I’m very, very disappointed, and I hope that I’m wrong,” he said.

John Bolton, former U.S. representative to the United Nations, added his two cents to Greta van Susteren’s On the Record show on Fox.

“This was a political decision, not a military decision,” Bolton said.